Why Are Americans Becoming More Stupid?

“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind,” said Winston Churchill. And judging by the state of education in America, it seems both of those empires could soon crumble. The dysfunction is evident from top to bottom: from Ivy League outposts down to the secondary schools. Both are producing a generation that is ill-informed, illiterate and innumerate. In other words, a generation increasingly ill-suited to function as productive citizens in a democracy.

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Class of ’24

Most political coverage in America revolves around personalities, stratagems, and the cultural issues that appeal to the activist class in both parties. Yet the real determinant in 2024 will not be abortion, “systemic racism,” gender fluidity, or climate change, but deepening class divides. Read more

Downtown San Francisco is Beyond Redemption

The recent announcement that Ian Jacobs, a scion of the famous Toronto-based Reichmann real estate clan, was coming to buy upwards of $900 million of San Francisco real estate, has offered the beleaguered California city a rare moment of hope. Some suggest that we could see a repeat of New York’s recovery from its nadir in the 1970s, during which the Reichmanns made a fortune gobbling up depressed buildings shortly before the city’s resurgence.

Yet any effort to restore San Francisco’s appeal will need more than an infusion of vulture capital. The city’s problems are essentially demographic and political, and have transformed San Francisco from an icon to a disaster zone, particularly as workers opt for remote work. The city’s office vacancy rate continues to rise, now surpassing 35%, the highest in its history.

To be sure, San Francisco has been losing its middle class for decades, replaced initially by young single people, many of whom are tied to the tech industry. But as early as 2015, the city began losing net domestic migrants as growth shifted to the further exurbs.

Since the pandemic, the city’s population has dropped and its social problems, long festering, have become a running sore. That’s likely why up to 10% of San Francisco’s residents have left the city — far more than in New York. “A lot of people have had it,” Heather Gonzalez, a longtime Democratic activist and mother of two, told me. “We have had neighbours and an elderly grandfather beat up on a bus and my kids have to watch people poop in public on Market Street. This is what we have to go through.”

Yet there is some hope, Gonzalez suggests. She points to the recent recall of ultra progressives including the District Attorney and three school board members. There’s also been a concerted effort by moderate Democrats to root the radical Left’s hold on the party as well as an effort to replace several far-Left members of the Board of Supervisors.

Amid a severe budget deficit, these efforts are critical. The city’s understaffed police department is almost certain to lose the battle for resources with the city’s dominant and fervently Leftist public employee unions. That the city now suffers the second highest violent crime rate in California illustrates just how important this battle is.

These reform efforts finally have some backing now from the tech oligarchs, who in recent years have been indifferent or even supportive of the progressive agenda. This has roiled the Left-wing activists who see any movement backed by the billionaire class as a hostile takeover.

Yet even if the city somehow regains its ballast, Reichman may be looking at the wrong places to invest. Although the office market may recover, the movement of business out of the state continues in a way far more profound than in New York back in the 1970s.

Read the rest of this piece at UnHerd.

Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Homepage photo: Ken Lund, via Flickr under CC 2.5 License.

Is Gen Z Turning Against Western Civilization?

The younger generations seem increasingly crazed. A worrying proportion of the young sympathises with those who launch terror attacks against Israel, supports the immediate elimination of fossil fuels or demands the wiping out of gender distinctions. All these positions are troubling in themselves, but they also reflect a deeper malady – a mostly apolitical breakdown of social norms, personal interaction, literacy and logical thinking.

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Europe Is Burning

Ever since the earliest days of the Republic, American intellectuals, artists, and statesmen looked to Europe for models. Conservatives felt attracted to the continent’s sense of continuity and tradition, and as the base for Christianity. More recently, progressives saw in European social democracy and globalist pacifism a role model to be embraced. Read more

Will Jews Return to the Ghetto?

It is a warm Monday morning in Rome, and the city’s ancient ghetto resembles an armed camp. As carabinieri line the streets, a cloud of melancholy hangs in the air: not only had more than 1,400 Jews recently been slaughtered in Israel, but the date — October 16 — marks the anniversary of its residents forced evacuation to the concentration camps. History, it seems, is repeating itself.

Despite the unconscionable parallels, however, and regardless of the prevalence of Kosher restaurants and carciofi alla giudia, little in the ghetto is as it was. Few Jews, amid Italy’s population of less than 50,000, live there. The same can be said of almost every European city. After the Holocaust, most Jews, as historian Paul Johnson observed, “accepted oppression and second-class status” outside of the ghetto in return for being left alone.

To some extent, life in America was more welcoming; as far back as 1790, George Washington, writing to the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island, went beyond upholding tolerance to embracing full citizenship as part of “their inherent natural rights”. Today, however, that credo is being called into question. Here, as in Europe, the great period of Jewish influence and efflorescence that started a century ago may be peaking. The result, once dismissed as inconceivable, is that the allure of a more separate existence, a ghetto of the spirit, may start to grow.

For now, the golden era of Jewish achievement still twinkles, but only just. Jews remain inordinately celebrated in the arts and sciences; both the Tony Award in 2023 and the Pulitzer for fiction the year before went to writers covering, somewhat obsessively, Jewish themes. The list of Jewish Nobel prize winners has also expanded since the War, constituting well over 20% of the total.

Yet such achievements cannot mask the fact that the Jewish Century is rapidly fading. On the surface, Jewish life, both inside and outside the diaspora, may seem unassailable. But just as terrorists were able to breach Israel’s supposedly impenetrable defences, the forces of antisemitism have penetrated Western society, as young, educated progressives, including a few Jews, make common cause with Hamas and its allies.

Continuing demographic retreat isn’t helping. After the war’s end, 3.8 million European Jews remained; today, there are barely 1.5 million. Even the last great redoubts of Jewish life are threatened by assimilation and the pernicious new hybrid that joins Leftist and Islamist hatred. Nearly 50,000 Jews have left France since 2000, mostly for Israel, the United States and Canada. With no likely source of new immigration, it’s difficult to envision how the country’s Jewish population will ever grow again. Likewise Eastern Europe, once the centre of the Jewish world with its 8 million Jews, is home to fewer than 400,000 today. Indeed, the only place there seems to be growth is among the orthodox — a community that may not live in official ghettos, but is still in inwardly focused and defensively minded areas.

Read the rest of this piece at UnHerd.

Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo: by Jorge Láscar. The Jewish Quarter in Prague, known as Josefov, is located between the Old Town Square and the Vltava River. Its torrid history dates back to the 13th century, when the Jewish community in Prague were ordered to vacate their disparate homes and settle in one area. Flickr under CC 2.0 License.


America’s Sanctuary Cities Are Falling Apart

If it were not so tragic, it would be funny. For years the progressive Left — in the US as well as across the West — has boasted about its willingness to accept people even if they have arrived in America illegally. Read more

The Death of the Great American City

The King of Wall Street has spoken, but the peasants are not listening. Ever since the end of the lockdowns, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, like many of his elite counterparts in cities from New York to Seattle, has been calling for the workers to return to their cubicles and daily commutes. Read more

Woe, the Humanity: How AI Fits into Rising Anti-Humanism

The future of humanity is becoming ever less human. The astounding capabilities of ChatGPT and other forms of artificial intelligence have triggered fears about the coming age of machines leaving little place for human creativity or employment. Even the architects of this brave new world are sounding the alarm. Sam Altman, chairman and CEO of OpenAI, which developed ChatGPT, recently warned that artificial intelligence poses an “existential risk” to humanity and warned Congress that artificial intelligence “can go quite wrong.”

While history is littered with apocalyptic predictions, the new alarms are different because they are taking place amid broad cultural forces that suggest human beings have lost faith in themselves and connections with humanity in general.

The new worldview might best be described as anti-humanism. This notion rejects the idea that human beings are perennially ingenious, socially connected creatures capable of wondrous creations – religious scripture, the plays of Shakespeare, the music of Beethoven, the science of Einstein. Instead, it casts people, society, and human life itself as a problem. Instead of seeing society as a tool to help people to build and flourish, it stresses the need to limit the damage humanity might do.

Many climate change activists, for example, argue that humanity’s extinction could be a net plus for planet earth. State-sanctioned euthanasia, which just a few years ago was considered a radical assault on the sanctity of life, is becoming common practice in many Western countries – available not just to the terminally ill but those who are just tired of living.

All this is taking place as social science research reveals that people are increasingly cutting themselves off from one another. The traditional pillars of community and connection ‒ family, friends, children, church, neighborhood ‒ have been withering, fostering an everyday existence defined for many people by loneliness. The larger notion of human beings as constituting a larger, collective project with some sense of common goal is being replaced by a solipsistic individualism, which negates the classical liberal values of self-determination and personal freedoms in a worldview that nullifies the societies they built.

These trends, which have been studied largely in isolation, could be amplified by the ascendance of artificial intelligence. As humanity wrestles with powerful new technologies, a growing body of research suggests that a more fundamental question may be whether human beings are willing to shape their own legacy in the new world order.

Anti-humanism has a long history – it can be traced back at least to Thomas Malthus, who warned in 1789 that overpopulation was the greatest threat to human prosperity. Although the British economist and cleric was not hostile to humanity and his dark predictions never came true, his claim that people are the problem has provided the cri de coeur for the modern environmental movement. In 1968, the biologist Paul Ehrlich’s best-seller “The Population Bomb,” which expressed horror at the proliferation of people, prophesied that continued surges in population would lead to mass starvation. Ehrlich and his acolytes urged extreme measures to stave off disaster, including adding sterilant to the water supply to prevent human reproduction.

These views have not gone away. The big business-funded Club of Rome report, issued in 1972, embraced an agenda of austerity and retrenchment to stave off population-driven mass starvation and social chaos. Humanity’s ancient effort to create safety and comfort – its commitment to progress and prosperity – was cast as a lethal threat.

Read the rest of this piece at Real Clear Investigations.

Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Samuel J. Abrams is a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Homepage photo: cottonbro studio

Kill Off the Old City So New Cities Can Be Born

After decades of self-celebration and relentless media hype, the great “urban renaissance” predicted by the New Urbanists—a vision of cities built by and for the creative class—has come crashing down. Where the smart set once proclaimed that mayors should rule the world or that economic growth would increasingly cluster in a handful of super cities, now even The New York Times bleakly warns of an “urban doom loop.”

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